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Michelle D. Hand, PhD, MSW, LSW



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Like many students, I had not planned to leave the city I grew up in when I began my studies.  My initial plan was to become a therapist and offer counseling to local survivors of complex trauma, primarily resulting from sex trafficking.  Women and girls from areas marked by poverty, in both rural and urban settings within and surrounding Columbus, Ohio were being sold, yet trafficking was largely considered a "third world problem."  This was not only problematic on several levels, but it was personal.  Survivors were invisible in a city I called home.  Doing nothing to address this problem was not an option.

As a clinical social worker, I learned that more research was needed to address the largely unacknowledged issue of sex trafficking. Thus, I returned to school to contribute to urgently needed research in this area, and my focus expanded, to include sexual violence. Next,I began including older adults in my research, after collaborating with some brilliant gerontologists, as elders are often excluded in sexual violence prevention and intervention, due to ageism, sexism and related rape stereotypes).  

As the end of our PhD program drew near, I was made an offer for an academic position in Ohio, for two tentative positions on the east coast, and one that would involve moving to Morgantown to teach at the School of Social Work at West Virginia University (WVU).  Staying home, especially during COVID, was particularly tempting.  Further, just as with WVU, the faculty I would be working with were incredible.  But West Virginia drew me in and accordingly, out my home state, as aside from all that WVU has to offer, it remained where my skills could be put to use to help make the most meaningful changes.

One of several distinct highlights from my initial visit to Morgantown involved a captivating lunch with three students at WVU.  They were wonderful hosts and we enjoyed a riveting conversation.  Throughout it, one student seemed remarkably contemplative.  It appeared that she had not yet determined what she thought about the prospects of me teaching at WVU.  This made sense, especially as we had known each other for less than an hour, so I did not yet reflect at length on my observation of her cautious and thoughtful demeanor, aside from personally relating to it.  Still, following a long silence, she asked something I would continue to reflect on weeks later: "If you teach here, are you planning to live down here too?"  

Out of context, this may have seemed like a strange question. Yet I had watched a short film about WVU prior to our luncheon and was struck by how many students talked about perceptions of West Virginia, Appalachian stigma, and how they (as individuals and as a community) radically depart from longstanding stereotypes that have been predominantly influenced by individuals who do not live in West Virginia, many of whom have never been to the state. As someone who researches the impacts of perceptions of sexual violence on how it is prevented and addressed, I found this to be immensely harmful. I wanted to join these students in changing the perceptions they discussed along with their related impacts.  I especially wanted to get to know the students and left Morgantown feeling like I needed more time with nearly everyone I met. 

Yet long before leaving WVU, during lunch, I assured the student who asked if I would consider living in West Virginia that I unequivocally would; social workers have historically dwelled within the same communities they aimed to help, not to mention that my research and teaching could benefit tremendously from a well-rounded grasp of the environment.  She smiled and seemed relieved.  I was glad to have addressed her concern, but was troubled that her relief revealed the Appalachian stigma students discussed, and fears related to remaining in or moving to West Virginia which persist for various reasons.  

A short article I read after visiting Morgantown listed multiple points for consideration prior to moving to West Virginia.  Among this list were stereotypes about the state and the poor or confused reactions one may receive upon sharing plans to move to West Virginia, which is very unfortunate. The notion that one person is better than another or others, including based on where an individual is from or lives, is prejudice. Prejudice, in the form of racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, ableism, sexism (etc.), is not something I support; not as an individual, and especially not as a social worker.  Social injustice and prejudice are instead key motivators for my work; change certainly will not take place without continued learning and effort.

For these reasons and more (including its stunning parks, mountains and exceptionally warm people), I was excited to move to West Virginia, to further my learning and research on Appalachian culture, and to work with amazing students and colleagues as well as with the community. While I moved to the DC area upon accepting a position at George Mason University to more fully focus on my arts- and horticulture-based research, I will always remember my time in West Virginia fondly; my colleagues at WVU are phenomenal and have made quite an impression on me. For those who are interested in West Virginia, I have included a list of destinations, videos and short readings, which can be accessed using the navigation buttons below. 

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Michelle Hand, PhD, MSW, LSW




George Mason University

College of Health and Human Services
Department of Social Work
4400 University Drive, MS 1F8
Fairfax, VA 22030, USA


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Exploring and Addressing Violence and Trauma
through Multi-level Non-pharmacological Interventions
for Greater Wellbeing and Justice

Among At-risk Communities Across the Lifespan

Professional Development

  • Public Speaking

    • Trauma, Resilience and Healing

    • Sexual Violence, Trafficking and Healing Across the Lifespan

    • Trauma-informed Teaching, Research and Practice

    • Nature- and Arts-based Strategies​ for Mental Health and Trauma

    • Social Work, Human Rights and Social Justice

    • Research (e.g., Systematic, Scoping, Rapid and General Literature Reviews)


  • Trauma-informed Consultation and Coaching                for Individuals, Agencies and Organizations

    • Trauma-informed Healthcare and Social Work

      • Trauma-informed Dentistry

    • Trauma-informed Teaching and Mentorship

    • Trauma-informed Research


  • PhD Candidate and Job Market Consultation and Coaching 

    • Highlights on Qualifications

      • Successful Dissertation Defense as a First-Gen Graduate, while Teaching and in Practice, as a Parent (Support is Essential)

      • 12 Campus Visit Invitations, Resulting in Multiple Offers ​

      • Pre- and Post-pandemic TT Market Experience (with a Spouse + Small Kids)

      • Experience Securing a Second R-1 TT Position Early on the TT 

      • Relevant Service: Candidacy, Dissertation and Search Committee Experience

Teaching Skills and Software

  • Curriculum, Syllabus and Lecture Development

  • Extensive Independent In-Person, Online and Hybrid Lecture Experience

  • Collaborative Study Abroad Leadership

  • Formal and Informal Mentorship


Advanced Quantitative Methods and Software

  • Systematic, Scoping and Rapid Reviews

  • Multiple Hierarchical and Logistic Regression Analysis

  • Chi-Square Analysis

  • Survey design and Implementation

  • Red Cap, Qualtrics and Lime, Survey

  • SPSS


Advanced Qualitative Methods and Software

  • In-depth Individual and Focus Group Interviews

  • Thematic Analysis and Synthesis

  • Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis

  • Discourse Analysis

  • Grounded Theory

  • Case Study

  • NVivo and Excel


Advanced Mixed Methods

  • Multistage Transformative Methods

  • Community-Based Participatory Research


Research, Writing and Presentation Collaboration

  • Excellent Written Skills, with a Record of High Impact First-authored Publications

    • Experience Successfully Training Colleagues and Students on Research and APA Formatting​

  • Over 30 Peer-reviewed National and International Conference Presentations


Social Work Practice Skills

  • Case Management

  • Individual, Group and Family Therapy

  • Structural Family and Solutions-Focused Therapy, as well as Trauma-Informed Approaches

  • Arts-based Social Work

  • School Social Work

  • Medical Social Work

  • Urban and Rural Social Work


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